The importance of handling customer complaints

Nobody likes receiving complaints. For an accountancy company, though, a client complaint can do more than just upset. It can damage your business’ reputation, lose you revenue, and potentially even see you fined. That’s why it’s so important to handle complaints in the right way – and to do what you can to prevent them from happening in the first place. Read on for more on the types of complaints accountancy firms may receive, how they can affect your business, and what you can do to both resolve them and reduce the likelihood of them happening again.

Unique Nature of Accounting Complaints: More than numbers

There are many reasons why a client might complain about an accounting firm – and they’re not all about price. Of course, if a client isn’t happy with the perceived value of a project then price can be a valid reason to complain, but service is also a major source of problems.

It may be that they feel that you or one of your accounting company colleagues has been rude, or feel unappreciated. They may believe that communications have been poor, or that any concerns they have had have been ignored.

They might even feel that you haven’t delivered on your initial promises: that the work you’ve done hasn’t met their expectations.

Handling any complaint – whether you feel it is justified or not – in the right way is vital. If a client isn’t happy with your accounting firm’s service, they may be unwilling to pay the full fee for the work, which can leave you out of pocket. In the case of a serious complaint, they could escalate the complaint further, resulting in fines or legal action.

What’s more, they may not trust the work you’ve done, which could impact on your relationship going forward. This is particularly problematic if it’s a long-term client but remember, any negative experience can spread quickly.

Brand Reputation and Client Trust: The ripple effect

A complaint may come from just a single customer, but that one complaint can rapidly turn into something much bigger.

If that customer feels that their complaint isn’t taken seriously – or that it isn’t resolved quickly enough or to their satisfaction – you could well find that they share their experiences with others.

They might leave negative reviews of your accounting company online. They could tell friends, family and colleagues to steer clear of your accounting firm. They could, when they see someone on social media asking for recommendations, tell them about their bad experience. They might even leave negative comments on your own social media posts.

This negative sentiment can quickly spread, with others relaying what they’ve heard from the original complainant. Ultimately, it could damage your likelihood of winning new business – and in the longer term, you could find that removing these negative comments from the Internet is impossible, leading anyone who searches for you online to stumble across bad reviews.

After this damage is done, there’s not much you can do to undo it. That’s why handling customer complaints effectively and immediately is so vital.

Strategies for Effective Resolution: Communicate and solve

Communication is the key to resolving customer complaints effectively.

Start with active listening – being fully engaged when listening to the client’s concerns and asking appropriate questions to gain a full understanding of the issue.

With this level of detail, your accounting firm will be able to create a solution to the problem that completely aligns with your client’s needs.

Remember, too, that time is of the essence. The complaint should be acknowledged as quickly as possible after its receipt, a solution proposed, and accurate, fair timescales given for the resolution to be complete.

You’ll also want to make sure that you update your client on progress, as well as following up with them after you’ve resolved the problem. This not only shows that you’re taking their concerns seriously, it also reduces their need to chase you to find out when their issue is likely to be resolved.

Of course, the Holy Grail would be to avoid these complaints happening in the first place. Here’s how you can make that happen.

Feedback as a Catalyst for Improvement: Turning negatives into positives

While nobody likes negative feedback, it’s important to remember that any complaints about your accounting firm can be used to improve your client service going forward.

Looking back through previous complaints and reviews can help you to understand whether there are any elements that are cropping up regularly. Analysing complaints methodically like this means you can identify any service gaps that can be plugged to reduce the likelihood of further problems going forward.

You’ll be able to see where in the sales process the issues occur: is it communication, pricing, transparency, employee attitude or something completely different? Once you’ve spotted where the gaps in your service are, you can plan how to minimise them.

It could be that you change your processes to minimise the risk of things going wrong. You may want to change the way you communicate with clients, whether this is written comms, spoken comms or both.

It could be that you realise that employee training is the answer: ensuring that every member of your team is up-to-date with your current processes, and that they are all living and breathing your accounting company’s vision and values.

Upskilling can also help when it comes to client satisfaction. If a client is unable to get in touch with their normal contact – whether it’s because of sickness, annual leave or something else – they need to be confident that their project can be handled by another member of the team in their absence.

After all, that old adage that “the client is always right” is very much true, especially in service industries like accounting. This is why it’s so important that your company culture is client-centric – and that this client-centric approach is built from the top down.

Cultivating a Proactive Client-Centric Culture: From the top down

Keeping clients happy from the start to the finish of every project means you’re less likely to receive complaints.

It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? However, without keeping this at the forefront of everything that your accounting firm does, you may not succeed.

Encourage completely open channels of communication, not just between your accounting company and your clients but internally, too. Make open communication part of your company culture, and be proud to shout about how key it is to everything that you do.

This should include implementing regular feedback loops – again, both between you and your clients and between you and your employees. This will help you to establish whether your current processes are working, whether your projects are on schedule and going to plan and whether there are any small issues that crop up that can be prevented from turning into larger ones.

Finally, reward your employees for exceptional client service. The choice of reward is yours: extra holiday days, financial incentives and physical gifts could all work, but be sure to choose something that will appeal to and encourage your team. Creating an environment where exceptional customer service is at the forefront of everything you do could mean that handling customer complaints becomes a thing of the past.

Joining a membership organisation specifically for accountants can provide you with even more useful advice for any issue you may be dealing with.

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